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Opening elk weekend rings true for couple

EAGLE POINT — In a small ground blind hidden Saturday in a meadow near Eagle Point sat Matt Dunbar and his girlfriend, Adrian Lass, together reviewing the fine points on how to bag a Roosevelt elk on opening day.

Dunbar trained the video camera on them to record the lead-in to Lass' first elk hunt, and she loaded two shells into her Weatherby .270-caliber rifle while wondering where the third round went.

Dunbar dug into his pocket for a third shell packed with more than just powder and lead.

"I noticed it right away," says Lass, 26, a veterinarian. "It's not a normal bullet, for sure, when there's a big diamond on the bottom of it."

And there in the blind, Dunbar completed his proposal to Lass.

And for the record, she did say yes.

Lass put the ring on her finger and put the bullet in the gun, with the crack of the bolt chambering in the start of their new lives together.

It's a match made in Elk Camp.

"Not too many people plan their marriage proposal while hunting," says Dunbar, a 27-year-old insurance-benefits advisor. "We're both country folk and love the outdoors, and I know she didn't want me to propose in some public place.

"If people think that's redneck and weird, we don't care," he says. "That's the way we are."

And to make it more weird ... after saying "I do," she did.

Lass followed Saturday's proposal on Sunday by shooting her first bull elk, a large four-point taken with —of course — that very same bullet, sans diamond.

"I even found the bullet and got it cleaned up," Dunbar says. "That's the beautiful ending to the whole story."

It's also perhaps the most unusual story to come out of Southern Oregon's woods during the general rifle season for bull elk, which runs through Friday along the Cascades' western slopes.

Warm temperatures and only incremental rains greeted thousands of hunters who had a small flurry of success Saturday and then saw success and effort seem to peter out through the weekend, biologists say.

"It sort of fizzled out when no big rains came and, of course, no snow," says Mark Vargas, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District biologist who checked hunters over the weekend.

"I think people might be a little frustrated with the weather," Vargas says.

Not Dunbar. He found all he was looking for in the blind Saturday, thanks to his high-carat round and his Weatherby.

The pair met as Oregon State University students and have dated about 2 1/2 years. They often hunt deer together and chose the meadow within their 110-acre parcel off Butte Falls Highway as the perfect place to introduce Lass to elk.

Dunbar, an avid bowhunter without a rifle tag, would assist.

Dunbar had worked out the whole caliber-and-carat cocktail and even took the shells out of Lass' rifle to set his plan into action.

"I was hoping the elk wouldn't show up and ruin my plans," Dunbar says.

They almost did, with at least one bull walking within 60 yards of the blind.

Dunbar convinced Lass not to shoot, a move that later seemed highly suspicious and even more self-serving.

"I think he did that on purpose," Lass says.

Lass says the proposal caught her off-guard, but she was happy to see him chose a ring she had fingered while looking at gem catalogs last summer.

"It's beautiful," she says. "Perfect. Exactly what I wanted."

With their nuptial necessities out of the way, Sunday was set aside for a bull.

Shortly after first light, a four-point bull stepped from behind brush about 200 yards away.

Eyeing that bull through her scope rattled more nerves than Dunbar's proposal.

"It was my first chance of getting one, and I was really, really nervous," Lass says.

Considering that about 50 percent of marriages end in divorce but 96 percent of Rogue Unit general-season hunters fail to bag a bull any given year, Lass perhaps had reasons to make sure Sunday's opportunity worked out perfectly.

Lass' shot, Dunbar says, was perfect.

"It doesn't happen too often," Dunbar says. "It was pretty exciting."

Finding the round in the animal made the bullet's journey come full-circle. It will be added to a photo of the pair, with Lass' elk like a visual aid when the pair tell future generations about the weekend when one .270-caliber bullet helped bag a wife and then a bull.

"It's a gorgeous four-by-four, Dunbar says. "I'm proud of her. I wouldn't have wanted any of it to go any other way."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.